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Net Neutrality – Don’t Let the Big Gov’t Control the Internet

Big government the real threat to Internet

(CNN) — In his recent CNN.com opinion piece, “Net neutrality is foremost free speech issue of our time,” Sen. Al Franken claims that “our free speech rights are under assault — not from the government but from corporations seeking to control the flow of information in America.”

He alludes to potential corporate blocking of online products and speech and says, “If that scares you as much as it scares me, then you need to care about net neutrality.”

Chicken Little, call your office!

Such sky-is-falling scare tactics are all too common in the heated debate over net neutrality regulation, but actual evidence of such nefarious corporate scheming is nowhere to be found. Perhaps that’s why Franken resorts to such tall tales.

Moreover, his reading of the First Amendment is at odds with the one most of us learned about in civics class (“Congress shall make no law…”). His would empower regulators by converting the First Amendment from a shield against government action into a sword that bureaucrats could wield against private industry.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We should be skeptical of any claims that net neutrality regulation is consistent with the First Amendment, let alone required by it. As First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere has noted (“The First Amendment, the Internet & Net Neutrality: Be Careful What You Wish For”), “It should not be forgotten that the federal government’s initial impulse [in the mid-1990s] was to censor the internet and to subject it to a far lower level of First Amendment protection.”

The real “Big Brother” threat here is a government with the power to completely foreclose all speech under threat of fine or imprisonment — a power the private sector lacks even if you buy into the silly notion that it is out to bottle up speech or speakers.

And really, why would any company want “to control the flow of information in America,” as Franken suggests? First, it’s bad for business. There’s just no good business case for censorship. Internet service providers make more money by delivering more bits, not fewer.

Second, censorship is hard. Internet service providers simply don’t have the technology or manpower necessary to effectively filter online content by viewpoint. Third, trying to control information would quickly create public relations nightmares for carriers.

There’d be hell for them to pay with the press, industry watchdogs and especially their subscribers. The white-hot spotlight of public attention is the best disinfectant. Finally, any attempt to censor would backfire and actually draw attention to the speech or speaker in question.

Simply stated, the internet’s First Amendment is the First Amendment — not some new, top-down, heavy-handed regulatory regime that puts the Federal Communications Commission in control of the digital economy.

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